Before the advent of the American Missionaries, Nagas were illiterate, practised headhunting and lived in their village-states, mostly in isolation from each other. History and culture were passed down through word of mouth, from generation to generation. There was a rich tradition of oral literature but no question of books or written literature then.
The first literary figure to make his presence felt in the region was E.W. Clarke, an American missionary of Dutch origin. With a journalistic background, he arrived in Assam in 1869 and was stationed at Sibsagar (Sivasagar) Mission. Armed with a printing press and an Assamese assistant (Godhula) in particular, he used to make forays into the Ao Naga hills. Slowly he started having converts. For the sake of his converts, he first translated and printed a hymn book and the Lord’s Prayer. He, finally, climbed the hills for a base at Molungyimsen Village in Ao Naga country in 1872.
In 1884, the first printing press, called Molung Printing Press, was set up in Molunyimsen village. The same year The Gospels of Mathew and John were translated into Ao language. W.E Witter’s Grammar and Vocabulary in Lotha language came out in 1888. The book, St Mathew, in Angami language followed in 1889 and the Sema Primer by Rev H B Dickson in 1908. Later, E W Clarke brought out a “dictionary” in the Ao language in 1911. So while the primary objective was to teach the new Naga converts to pray, read the Bible and sing hymns, literacy/education slowly followed in its wake.